Thoth tarot deck

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Display of the Thoth tarot cards in a museum

The Thoth Tarot is a divinatory tarot deck painted by Lady Frieda Harris according to instructions from Aleister Crowley. Crowley referred to this deck as The Book of Thoth, and also wrote a 1944 book of that title intended for use with the deck.

Background[edit]

Crowley originally intended the Thoth deck to be a six-month project aimed at updating the traditional pictorial symbolism of the tarot. However, due to increased scope, the project eventually spanned five years, between 1938 and 1943, and both artists died before its publication in 1969 by Ordo Templi Orientis.[citation needed]

Symbolism[edit]

The illustrations of the deck feature symbolism based upon Crowley's incorporation of imagery from many disparate disciplines, including science and philosophy and various occult systems (as described in detail in his The Book of Thoth).[1]

Differences from Rider–Waite tarot[edit]

Order and names of trumps[edit]

Crowley renamed several of the trumps compared to earlier arrangements, and also re-arranged the numerical, astrological and Hebrew alphabet correspondences of 4 trumps compared to the Rider–Waite tarot deck in accordance with the Tarot of Marseilles, his 1904 book The Book of the Law (Liber AL vel Legis) and its "New Commentary."[2] In the "New Commentary" and The Book of Thoth, Crowley demonstrates that his trump arrangement forms a double loop in the zodiac-number and letter-number correspondences compared to the Rider–Waite, where there is no loop.[1] There are interpretations as to why the Thoth Tarot deck does not follow Crowley's new arrangement having only a letter-number double loop and one of them is that it follows the same Golden Dawn arrangement as the Rider–Waite deck.[citation needed]

All these old letters of my Book are aright; but צ is not the Star.[3]

Tzaddi is the letter of The Emperor, the Trump IV, and He is the Star, the Trump XVII. Aquarius and Aries are therefore counterchanged, revolving on the pivot of Pisces, just as, in the Trumps VIII and XI, Leo and Libra do about Virgo. This last revelation makes our Tarot attributions sublimely, perfectly, flawlessly symmetrical.[2]

For The Star is referred to Aquarius in the Zodiac, and The Emperor to Aries. Now Aries and Aquarius are on each side of Pisces, just as Leo and Libra are on each side of Virgo; that is to say, the correction in the Book of the Law gives a perfect symmetry in the zodiacal attribution, just as if a loop were formed at one end of the ellipse to correspond exactly with the existing loop at the other end.[4]

Crowley's double loop in the zodiac
Number Sign Letter Name
IV Aquarius Tzaddi The Emperor
VIII Libra Lamed Adjustment
XI Leo Tet Lust
XVII Aries Heh The Star
Rider–Waite card Thoth equivalent
I: The Magician I: The Magus
II: The High Priestess II: The Priestess
VIII: Strength XI: Lust
X: Wheel of Fortune X: Fortune
XI: Justice VIII: Adjustment
XIV: Temperance XIV: Art
XX: Judgement XX: The Æon
XXI: The World XXI: The Universe

Names of court cards[edit]

Crowley altered the names of all the court cards which can cause some confusion for people used to the more common decks. The typical corresponding names are as follows:[5]

Traditional Court Card Name Thoth Deck Court Card Name
King Knight
Queen Queen
Knight Prince
Page Princess

Titles and attributions of the Minor Arcana[edit]

Wands[edit]

Number Sign Decan Ruler of Decan Name
1 The Root of the Powers of Fire
2 Aries 1st Mars Dominion
3 Aries 2nd Sun Virtue
4 Aries 3rd Venus Completion
5 Leo 1st Saturn Strife
6 Leo 2nd Jupiter Victory
7 Leo 3rd Mars Valour
8 Sagittarius 1st Mercury Swiftness
9 Sagittarius 2nd Moon Strength
10 Sagittarius 3rd Saturn Oppression

Cups[edit]

Number Sign Decan Ruler of Decan Name
1 The Root of the Powers of Water
2 Cancer 1st Venus Love
3 Cancer 2nd Mercury Abundance
4 Cancer 3rd Moon Luxury
5 Scorpio 1st Mars Disappointment
6 Scorpio 2nd Sun Pleasure
7 Scorpio 3rd Venus Debauch
8 Pisces 1st Saturn Indolence
9 Pisces 2nd Jupiter Happiness
10 Pisces 3rd Mars Satiety

Swords[edit]

Number Sign Decan Ruler of Decan Name
1 The Root of the Powers of Air
2 Libra 1st Moon Peace
3 Libra 2nd Saturn Sorrow
4 Libra 3rd Jupiter Truce
5 Aquarius 1st Venus Defeat
6 Aquarius 2nd Mercury Science
7 Aquarius 3rd Moon Futility
8 Gemini 1st Jupiter Interference
9 Gemini 2nd Mars Cruelty
10 Gemini 3rd Sun Ruin

Disks[edit]

Number Sign Decan Ruler of Decan Name
1 The Root of the Powers of Earth
2 Capricorn 1st Jupiter Change
3 Capricorn 2nd Mars Works
4 Capricorn 3rd Sun Power
5 Taurus 1st Mercury Worry
6 Taurus 2nd Moon Success
7 Taurus 3rd Saturn Failure
8 Virgo 1st Sun Prudence
9 Virgo 2nd Venus Gain
10 Virgo 3rd Mercury Wealth

Conservation[edit]

Harris' renditions of the tarot are on watercolor paper affixed to a thick backing; the acidity of the backing, according to a report from 2006, resulted in discoloration of borders, and to some extent, the paintings themselves. The paintings also required cleaning and the repair of small tears.[6] A conservation plan called for the cleaning surfaces, the removal of backing (while retaining original inscriptions), reuse of the hand-painted window mats, and replacement of overlays with acid-free, museum-quality paper. The project was completed in 2011.[citation needed] The paintings are owned by the Warburg Institute; work was completed by the Institute's in-house specialist, Susan Campion.

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  • Crowley, Aleister (1974a). The Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians. Illustrated by Frieda Harris. Samuel Weiser, Inc. ISBN 978-0877282686.
  • Crowley, Aleister (1974b). Magical and Philosophical Commentaries on The Book of the Law. 93 Publishing. ISBN 0919690017.
  • Crowley, Aleister (1987). The Book of the Law. Weiser Books. ISBN 0877283346.
  • SEC (October 2011). "Conservation Report: Aleister Crowley/Freida Harris Tarot Cards". oto.org. Ordo Templi Orientis. Retrieved 26 January 2021.
  • Wang, Robert (1987). The Qabalistic Tarot. Weiser Books. ISBN 978-0877286721.

Further reading[edit]

  • Duquette, Lon Milo (2003). Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot. Weiser Books.
  • Ziegler, Gerd (1988). Tarot: Mirror of the Soul: Handbook for the Aleister Crowley Tarot. Weiser Books. ISBN 978-0877286837.